Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Autumn: a good time for stories

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Nov. 10, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell

One dark and stormy night, 40 robbers sat in a cave. One of them said, “Zeke, tell us a story.” And this is the story he told. One dark and stormy night 40 robbers sat in a cave. One of them said, “Zeke, tell us a story.” And this is the story he told. One dark and stormy night…

I still remember the mix of emotions I felt when as a small child my father first told me about Zeke and his robber gang. The anticipation, the rising excitement as the story began. Followed by the disappointment and sense of being cheated as I realized there was no more to the story.

I had always loved a good story. Whether it was told by one of my parents, another relative, or it was a book or a movie, nothing satisfied me more than a well-told tale. Not until I was an adult did I realize this was not just me, but that the need for stories is universally human.

Every since people first gathered around a fire together, they have used stories not only to communicate experience and remember truth, but as a way of gaining understanding and making sense of the world. Methods of storytelling have changed dramatically over the centuries, but the importance of story remains immutable.

If we believe that our children learn to make sense of the world through stories, it is imperative that we examine the stories they are being told, who is telling them and what conclusions our kids are likely to be drawing from them.

Today children in the United States primarily get their stories from television, movies, the internet, video games, and music. They may also get some from books, friends and family, but increasingly the media is the main storyteller in our culture. Do these multi-media stories communicate what we as Christian parents know to be the important truths of life and of our faith?

Our children need stories that communicate that evil and good are not equal, that faithfulness is the goal, more so than success. We want to pass on the wisdom that problems can be solved through reconciliation better than violence, that we can find hope in the midst of despair, joy despite suffering, and that resurrection follows death. The deepest mysteries of life cannot be explained the way Mapquest gives travel directions. They are communicated best through story.

Storyteller Joe McHugh has traveled around the United States meeting people and recording their family stories. These stories have been featured on public radio stations, NPR’s Morning Edition, and Voice of America. McHugh says family stories might pass on this or that piece of historical information, but that isn’t really why they are told. Instead, the family story is about creating a collective myth, a structure of meaning that seeks to reach beyond the earthly realms of time and place to express something of the invisible life of the soul.

“They tell us when to laugh and when to cry, when to be generous and when to forgive. God knows there are dark things that happen within families but these are seldom the stories people tell as family stories,” says McHugh. “We are part of something bigger, these stories tell us. Our ancestors obviously survived against great odds or we wouldn’t be here.”

We cannot completely isolate our children from the multi-media culture, and even if we could, that would not be enough. We need to make sure our families are being fed with the kind of stories that somehow point to a deeper purpose in our lives. We can start simply by taking time at the family meal to tell family stories. Try turning off the computer and TV for an evening and reading aloud Bible stories or a good book. I suggest The Winter Room, by Gary Paulson. Take advantage of a dark and stormy night to tell tales that maybe your children will someday tell their children.

(For more ideas on incorporating family storytelling, see Mary’s latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, available through St. Anthony Messenger Press. Contact her at

© 2005, Mary Cronk Farrell

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